Comics – Index of Multi-Panel Pans by Decade

April 1976 – Four panel pan sequence or polyptych or super panel  from Marvel Comics’ Master of Kung Fu No. 39, page 23, art by Paul Gulacy

I am curious to understand where and how certain types of comic book and comic strip sequences and techniques got their start and how they grew and became part of comics vernacular.

I’ve calling these sequences (like the one on the right) “multi-panel pan sequences” or just “multi-panel pans” or “multi-pans.” They’re also called “polyptychs” from Scott McCloud‘s book Understanding Comics or “super panels” from Michel Fiffe. Earlier I wrote a bit about these sequences, by Paul Gulacy, Moore and Gibbons, and by Walt Simonson.

I’ll define a multi-panel pan sequence as “two or more consecutive comic book panels sharing the same background, each separated by a gutter.” A gutter is that white (or sometimes black) space between the panels.  Scott McCloud describes a polyptych as “where a moving figure or figures — is imposed over a continuous background.” Fiffe describes a super panel as “panels that are broken into  fragments in order to delay time, build tension, or reveal story details.”

For now, I am going to break these out by decade (maybe break that down more finely later, if it gets crowded.) For each of these pages, I’ve posted example images in publication date order. This is all a work-in-progress… I keep spotting these and adding new stuff (and there are way too many zillion of these to keep up with.)

  • 1900s (Winsor McKay, Lyonel Feininger, etc.)
  • 1920s
  • 1930s (Frank King)
  • 1940s (Harvey Kurtzman, etc.)
  • 1950s (Bill Everett, Dick Sprang, etc.)
  • 1960s (Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Herb Trimpe, etc.)
  • 1970s (Neal Adams, Paul Gulacy, Walt Simonson, etc.)
  • 1980s (Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc.)
  • 1990s (Alan Moore, Craig Thompson, etc.)
  • 2000s (Craig Thompson, etc.)
  • 2010s (Carolyn Nowak, etc.)

I am not going to try to do an encyclopedia of all multi-panel pans. Even just finding and scanning and documenting all the ones in Moore and Gibbon’s Watchmen would take me months. Some time in the mid-1980s these become fairly common, arguably even overused, by quite a few comic book artists. I am mainly interested in where they occur before 1980, when they were still somewhat rare. I am interested in how they emerged and how and why they caught on.

I’ve developed my own terminology for three kinds of faulty or questionable multi-pans: (None of these are absolutely always wrong… but I think they’re sometimes lazy, sometimes wrong.)

  1. gratuitous multi-pans (unnecessary gutters.)
  2. motion-logic inconsistent multi-pans (multi-pans that don’t make sense in terms of character movement through space.)
  3. cheats (multiple “exposures” within a single panel of a multi-pan – so the panel might not quite stand alone.)

I am also curious about:

  • the earliest use of this technique (earliest I’ve found is Lyonel Feininger in 1906)
  • earliest use of these for a specific artist or specific character or comic book or strip (ie: Gulacy’s earliest multi-panel pan in MOKF)
  • some similar tricks that are kinda like multi-panel pans, but not quite, perhaps antecedents (for example, see this 1954 Sub-Mariner sequence)
  • novel uses (sort of sub-genres) of this technique – cheats, multiple-exposures, experiments, etc.*
  • use of this technique in non-superhero comics (ie: in Craig Thompson’s Blankets)
  • use of this technique by artists not known for it (ie: I’ve never seen any of these by Jack Kirby)
  • use of this technique by non-U.S. publications (ie: Japanese manga)
  • and just very cool-looking multi-pans!
If you want to let me know where others of these occur, your favorites, etc., please comment below… or email me at linton.joe [at]

*One more note on terminology: Where each panel of the sequence can stand individually, I call it just a multi-panel pan sequence. I call it a “cheat” or an “overlap” when there’s a multiple-exposure panel within the pan sequence (I kinda explained that here), which is actually pretty common… so it’s probably not really cheating. I hope to do a glossary/definition page at some point.

7 Responses to “Comics – Index of Multi-Panel Pans by Decade”

  1. Brian M. Kane Says:

    I cannot comment on his Tarzan, but Hal Foster used multi-panels in Prince Valiant. Foster’s first two P.V. multi-image panels were on Page #10, 4-17-1937. Each panel had multiple images; each image had its own text, and all the images shared the same background. Foster used this story telling device fairly frequently, and his greatest use of this technique was Page #177 6-30-1940, in which the whole page is one multi-image panel. Foster’s first true multi-panel that was divided by a gutter was Page #204, 1-5-1941. After he semi-retired in 1971, Foster continued designing multi-panels for 10 years in his pencil layouts for John Cullen Murphy.

  2. Ampersand Says:

    I’ve always liked the way Dave Sim used polyptychs in “Cerebus” to highlight small gestures or movements. See these two examples from Jaka’s story: here and here.

    And here’s a more complicated example, from Melmoth.

  3. Open Thread and Link Farm, Catch 22 Subparagraph A Edition | Alas, a Blog Says:

    […] Comics – Index of Multi-Panel Pans by Decade | THE PERIODIC FABLE I love these sorts of panels (where a background continues across multiple panels). I’ve long contemplated trying to do a full-length comic with a single continuous background. […]

  4. Star Lord No 4: Inside! Part One of a mind-stretching sci-fi game! It stars Strontium Dog… it’s called Hell Planet… it’s not for cowards! – Back Prog Hack Says:

    […] techniques (and hope he outlines terminology for such things). Turns out he does – apparently Carrie Lincourt and Joe Linton have called them multi-panel pan sequences while Scott calls (something very much like them) them […]

  5. 2000AD Prog 266: “Don’t let me down, Slade – or the boys will let you down… PERMANENTLY!” – Back Prog Hack Says:

    […] less with all those sov judges over in Mega-City One). An ops centre judge pleads for mercy. In a multi-panel pan, Dredd refutes and denies the request in a famous scene as twenty TADs are launched on their way to […]

  6. Back From the Old School: Showing Motion via Repeated figures in a Single Panel » Ben Towle: Cartoonist, Educator, Hobo Says:

    […] You can find a great decade-by-decade index of these things online here. […]

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